Port City United for Change
By County Manager, Chris Coudriet
I’ll believe it when I see it.
They are words that have truly stuck with me and others on our staff here at New Hanover County for many months.
Like all things in government, there are procedures and processes to follow that ensure objectives are handled fairly, equitably and meet the needs of what is being addressed. Our response to the issue of community violence is not immune to that.
In a meeting late last year that featured stakeholders from across the community, a group of New Hanover High School students were invited in to listen and provide feedback. As members of our team shared plans, the students remarked that the areas we intended to target were a good start and provided insight on how to enhance what we were working on.
One young woman echoed the sentiments from her peers, but quickly followed with these concise, but impactful, words: “I’ll believe it when I see it.”
Ultimately, she is right. Talking is good. Planning is great. But change only happens when those two things become action.
And, as a county and community, we are taking action.
Hiring the people to the do the work and soliciting proposals from the non-profit sector to partner with us is underway to accomplish an array of services within the newly formed Port City United. This agency, which will be located downtown at 320 Chestnut Street, will have three main focuses:
- It will utilize trusted outreach workers and mediators within our community who will work to intervene and prevent violence.
- Port City United Connect, a 24-7, locally manned call center will be a place where community members can anonymously report violence, threats or other concerns not addressed through vital community services like 911 or mental health hotlines. PCU Connect will also actively listen on social media for potential threats, a proactive measure to overcome blind spots.
- PCU will also work with nonprofit partners to bring community resource coordinators into schools to help students and families receive equitable and easy access to services. These coordinators will be adults who the students can get to know and develop authentic connections with to feel heard, feel safer, and develop greater trust.
I know that there are questions from the community about how Port City United’s structure and program will work, and people may be skeptical. It’s unlike anything this community has ever done before, so I understand the hesitation and know it will take time to show its effectiveness. However, in order to begin solving problems we must think differently and be willing to try new and different strategies. The county’s intention is to get to the root of the issues and build support and resources at every turn, and we know that will not occur overnight. But it has the power to happen with our community’s involvement and commitment.
We are working with key partners, we are focusing on evidence-based programs and will be evaluating their effectiveness constantly, and we are willing to pivot as needs present themselves or if different resources are needed. This real and important issue deserves everyone to be at the table, to give it a chance, and work together to make it successful so we can have positive and lasting change.
Another key component of our initiative is providing resources and stability for families within their neighborhoods. One of the biggest issues we heard from stakeholders was a lack of food options, especially in the Northside.
Working with the City of Wilmington to determine the best location, the county will design and build a grocery story that will then be owned and operated by the Northside Food Co-op. We feel like the Co-op is the right partner to oversee this endeavor as they have been in the Northside community for quite some time, meeting with residents and learning about the needs in that area. Their goal was always to build a grocery store in the Northside, and we are able to partner with them to make that happen now. I believe their passion and their partnership will make this successful.
The grocery store will also help create more job opportunities, with employee recruitment focused on the surrounding neighborhoods. And the aim is even for a portion of the items that will be sold to come from local farmers and vendors from our area who are now currently part of the Northside Food Coop’s weekly Frankie’s Outdoor Market.
The store itself will be like any other grocery store, offering families the essentials they need to stock their fridges and pantries. While anyone is welcome to shop, the store’s goal is to provide a place where nearby residents can come and get the food they need and want to feed their families without having to leave their own neighborhood. That’s an opportunity many of us take for granted.
An overview of our community plan can be viewed here, so you can see a snapshot of many of the initiatives we are launching soon.
In addition to those outlined, in the coming fiscal year, we are also working with New Hanover County Schools to expand our county-funded Pre-K program with six additional Pre-K classes. This will provide more children with the opportunity to begin their educational journeys sooner, setting them up for life-long success academically, socially, and emotionally.
For our older students and adults, starting in the fall of 2023, we will be working with our partners at Cape Fear Community College to help eliminate barriers that might have previously kept someone from attending. This includes making sure needs like transportation and childcare are met so that individuals can further their education or work to hone skills in a specific trade.
We must do what we can to stop violence from happening. But we must also provide the resources needed to give everyone in our community equitable access, help and support to lead positive and productive lives.
I encourage you to continue remaining engaged in our progress, ask questions and share feedback, and be part of the community solution.
I believe the actions we are taking today, with our community working together, will help everyone be able to believe, see, and feel the impactful changes being made.